Pedaling smoothly requires finesse, not strength. Strength is the power by which you go fast, but going really fast takes strength coupled with pedal action finesse. Pedal action finesse must be learned. The idea is to apply an even pressure while pedaling smooth circles. To do this you need to go beyond the basic instinct of simply pushing down by doing specific exercises to improve efficiency. To begin training yourself toward smoother pedal action, you need to keep in mind:
Your shoes need to be snug, yet comfortable. Foot beds can enhance the comfort and efficiency of this connection by supporting the natural arch of your foot in a neutral position.
Get advice, but usually about .885 of your total barefoot inseam.
SADDLE DISTANCE BEHIND BOTTOM BRACKET
This dimension determines knee-over-pedal, the perpendicular measurement from behind the kneecap and directly through the pedal spindle with your crank aimed forward and your heel slightly raised. The ball of your foot will ideally be directly over the pedal spindle.
The ideal pedal stroke constantly changes the direction of the force applied to the pedals, keeping it perpendicular to the crank arms as they rotate through the pedaling circle. This provides maximum power distribution and a higher wattage production, thus more speed. Pedal rotation finds a "dead spot" at the 12 o'clock position. Pedal action must carry the foot through. A little forward pressure at 11 o'clock helps to bring the pedal through the dead power area and inserts more mean wattage into the total output. Two, 3 and 4 o'clock are the power phase, easy to exert force and apply the weight of the legs or body. Start pulling back at 4 o'clock and pull through until 7 o'clock, with the same motion as scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe. At 8, 9, and 10 o'clock you are pulling up on the pedal while concentrating on pushing your knee forward. A forceful pull is ideal but can be uneven. Taking weight off the pedal as it rises is a big improvement. Then start pushing through the upper dead spot again.
You can develop the necessary muscle coordination to spin smoothly by practicing pedaling at 90 - 120 revolutions per minute. Consistently training this area of your cycling creates neuro-muscular memory which is necessary for a productively powerful pedal action. Fast cadence allows you to save muscle strength while your legs and feet have the momentum to carry the pedals through the top of the pedal rotation.
Some riders are light and can spin the gears uphill or stand up on the pedals for long periods of time. But most riders stay seated on the longer climbs which produces the most efficient power output. Positioned back on the saddle with hips stationary you should concentrate on applying even, constant pressure to the pedals. A light grip of the bars will help the upper body stay relaxed and save energy which can be applied to fully powered pedal action. A wide grip on the bars with your chest up and open will aid breathing. You can stand up on the pedals for brief periods when the road steepens or you want to accelerate. This is also good for relaxing tension in your hips and below, which is caused by the constant intense exertion of long climbs.
Keep your legs spinning to stay warm and to hasten removal of muscle waste products and to keep warm.
They are the opposite of spinning but similar to climbing. Slower motion requires constant pressure on the pedals with no movement from the hips up. This also makes it easier to change the direction of the force. Push the pedals through the power phase (2, 3 and 4 o'clock); drop your heel as you go through the bottom of the rotation, pulling back on the pedals while rolling through the dead spot. Lift your heel as you pull up while pushing your knee forward as you push through the top of the dead spot.
IMPROVING YOUR PEDAL ACTION
- Spinning small gears downhill develops finesse and supple muscles. Beyond a certain cadence you have to concentrate on just pulling up on the pedals.
- Pedaling with one leg in and one leg out of the pedals helps teach you to apply pressure all the way around the circle, down, back and up. It also helps with ankle position. This is an ideal exercise for you to use on a stationery trainer. Practice this technique at around 50-60 RPM. Do it for about a minute on each leg and alternate legs, working up to a total of 10 minutes.
A smooth spinning action requires practice. Pushing down is the easy part. You must work on smooth, continuous effort. Choose appropriate gearing and cadence for the terrain and try to maintain an intense, fluid motion at the threshold of becoming erratic.